Born on April 28, 1958, late night talk show host Jay Leno is one of America's most beloved TV personalities. Before he made millions laugh throughout the week, the jokester got his start doing stand-up comedy in local nightclubs during college. Leno moved to Los Angeles after graduation and began work as writer for the show Good Times.
In 1977, Leno made his first appearance on The Tonight Show, which led to regular appearances on late-night TV (including future competitor David Letterman). Leno married Mavis Nicholson in 1980, just as his career was beginning to take off. The comic signed a deal with NBC in the mid-'80s, making him one of two permanent guest hosts of The Tonight Show.
Leno's biggest break came in 1992 when he replaced Johnny Carson as host of The Tonight Show. Thanks to his clean-cut sense of humor, he beat out previous mentor Letterman for the job. Once he began hosting, Leno and his longtime manager, Helen Kushnick, had a very public fallout. She reportedly threatened potential guests not to appear on rival talk shows if they wanted to be on The Tonight Show. After her firing, the show found its footing, and in 1993, Leno extended his contract for five years to the tune of $40 million. Two years later, Leno won his first Emmy for hosting The Tonight Show. He renewed his contract yet again in 1998, making $100 million over the course of five years. By 2003, Leno announced he planned to leave NBC in 2010, and Conan O'Brien was named as his successor. However, NBC made a surprise announcement in December 2008: Leno would move to a new timeslot at 10 p.m. in September 2009, O'Brien would replace him on The Tonight Show and former Saturday Night Live comedian Jimmy Fallon would take over O'Brien's previous timeslot.
The new schedule proved to be difficult for both Leno and O'Brien. In January 2010, NBC announced that Leno would return to the 11:35 p.m. timeslot after the Winter Olympics in February. The fates of The Jay Leno Show, The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon were uncertain, causing a very public feud among the comics and the network.